Grandparenting with Christ
Lyn Worsley reflects on grand-parenting and sharing our faith with those who matter most to us.
As I ponder this article I am sitting here with a one-week old baby boy in my arms. This is our first grandchild and it is pertinent that I write about this new phase of our lives. For us the arrival of our little grandson is huge. We feel too young to be grandparents and were caught off guard as our daughter announced 10 years ago that she and her husband had decided they didn’t want children. Opting then for a café, inner city lifestyle. So, the announcement of the pregnancy caught us all by surprise. Our daughter also decided some 20 years ago that she did not want to follow Christ.
This was a blow for us and, as it would be for many Christian parents. It meant our relationship took on a different turn. We didn’t love her any less, but the sharing of our faith was now off the table. Over the years as we have brought up our love of God and his relevance in our lives, she and her husband have seemed politely interested, and when times are tough have asked us to pray for them. Until of course the arrival of their son.
Suddenly, they are in awe of creation and are overwhelmed with the responsibility as parents for his every need including his spiritual life.
Our role as grandparents now begins to emerge having a spiritual responsibility. Many Christian grandparents find themselves in a similar position, as their own children have walked away from God. What then is our role in raising the grandchildren in the way of Christ and how do we negotiate this? As a psychologist, I am constantly aware of the boundaries that parents and grandparents and in-laws must respect, as I have so many stories told of interfering and disapproving parents and in laws. The challenges associated with different values across generations and the guilt linked to managing the tension between work and family life can take its toll on all family relationships.
Grandparents can run the risk of stepping back and being too careful to bring up deeper values and therefore being completely ineffective as the wise counsel they could be. On the other hand, they can run the risk of becoming dogmatic and pushy with their religious views and so may turn the next generation away completely. How do we find a balance? The balance of really loving our children and respecting their views, but at the same time consider the deeper issues of telling our grandchildren about Jesus. Several issues come up as I ponder these tensions.
The second half of life
If we consider the deeper issues at hand here, we begin with the emerging wisdom and emotional and social development of the grandparents themselves. Richard Rohr talks about the first and second half of life in his book, Falling Upward. He notes that during the first half of life we spend our time “becoming” and building our identity, to find that in the second half of life that it really doesn’t matter and that life is more than who we are and what we can do.
The second half of life has the pressure removed and the permission to consider what really matters most. For Christians, this is a revelation when we begin to relax into the arms of our God who has been there before, and knows where we are heading. The all-knowing, and loving Father, Grandfather, Great grandfather and so on. So, as grandparents we then have the opportunity to be more focused on our grandchild’s inner character, loving them as Christ loves us. We can be set away from the hurried aspects of life such as saving for a house, managing dual incomes and career tensions. We can be focusing on the Kingdom experience for our grandchildren rather than what is happening to us.
One of the activities I use with the young parents, is to get them to reflect into the future and think about their own grandchildren sitting around a dinner party as adults. I ask the young parents to reflect on what behaviour and values their grandchildren will be exhibiting that will show that they have influenced them in a good way. What will they be talking about? How will they treat others? And what will tell you that this is your grandson or granddaughter? This is a great values exercise, and helps parents to begin to focus on what they really want to have as lasting value rather than the little things that pass over time.
Fast forward with this exercise and consider that this is now happening. Your grandchildren are here and you have another opportunity to influence them in Kingdom values. The urgency of influencing the children in a good way with the values you hold dear becomes closer.
This doesn’t mean that we “have to” get them to church, which can be interpreted as a tick the box, obligation for “religiosity”.
It means that the relationship we have with them becomes even more important. Research tells us that the relationship with grandparent is one where the family principles and values are often passed down. So how do we do this? When we consider the Gospel’s account of Jesus’ relationships, He was all-knowing, but never controlling. Consider His comment to Peter, Who do you say that I am? He understood how people thought, consider His reflection to Zacchaeus, “I am coming to your house today”. He also considered their needs but didn’t necessarily give them what they wanted; note the experience of the rich young ruler. He gave them wise counsel, but didn’t push it on them. He waited and was available for them, sometime wandering along the road, sometimes reclining at a table, or sleeping in a boat, but all the while he was living alongside them and being in their space.
The initiative starts with us
As grandparents, we may not have the luxury of living close or being readily available, however the initiative starts with us. We can set up times to Facetime, or send snail mail letters and puzzles and games. We can remember times that things are on and ask about them, showing that we are on their team. We can also set up times where we have more time to reflect on what is going on in their lives. We can bake, take shared time, walk, talk and slowly share the meaning of life. Often, these unhurried moments are times when a child remembers the values and love being shared. As grandparents, we can also take time to tell Bible stories, and to share the meanings and relevance to our lives today. Children do remember.
My mother is elderly, she is 98 years old, and in a nursing home. She has 33 great grandchildren with one more on the way. She has a calendar near her bed with all their photos on it, and remembers each of the grandchildren’s birthdays. She has set up a library of books for them to read and ponder when they come to visit. Each of them sharing the values of justice, mercy and grace as Jesus demonstrated. She has theme books which she read to us as children such as Uncle Toms’ Cabin, To Kill a Mockingbird and C. S. Lewis’ Narnia series. She listens to songs and recites poetry to the grandchildren and great grandchildren. Not all of them follow Jesus, some do, but all their hearts are filled with gratitude and love.
They would all know about Jesus Christ through their relationship with their great grandmother.
She talks in a whisper, has difficulty hearing and can’t walk; but she has a cupboard set up in her room with toys, puzzles and books especially for the great grandchildren. They love being there and feel loved. Jesus is loving them through her, and she knows that He has them each in his hand. She longs to see them again in paradise.
As I ponder my new role as a grandparent, and how to pass on the values I see as important above all else, I think of how Christ calls us to ‘Love your God, with all your heart and mind and soul.’ Grand parenting then for me is to do this as Christ has done this for me. Unhurried, considered and thoughtful and all the time loving, caring and teaching. May I too, see them in paradise.
Lyn Worsley is a Clinical Psychologist at The Resilience Centre.
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